« A.U.C. 507 = 247 B.C. »
Pliny, NH 11.65, says that a certain "Metellus pontifex" was said to have been so tongue-tied that he had to practice for several months the formula to be spoken at the dedication of a temple of Ops Opifera. Ops was a deity chiefly associated with the harvest. Two such temples are known, one at an unknown location with a dedication anniversary on a.d. VI Kal. Sept. (Acta Fratrum Arvalium) while the other, located near the Forum, had a dedication anniversary on a.d. XII Kal. Ian. (Fasti Amiternini), which is also the date of the festival of the Opalalia.
The chronological relevance of this story depends on the identity of "Metellus pontifex". The problem is most recently studied by M. G. Morgan, Phoenix 27 (1973) 35. Of the known Metelli pontifices, only two seem reasonable candidates: L. Caecilius Metellus Delmaticus, cos. 119, and L. Caecilius Metellus, cos. I 251, II 247, later pontifex maximus and an active comander in the First Punic War. The others lived in the late Republic, a period regarded as too well-documented for such an event to have been lost sight of.
The arguments for Delmaticus are as follows:
- Valerius Maximus 8.13.2 notes that as pontifex maximus for over 20 years he never hesitated or stumbled in performing the rituals and sacrifices
- By contrast nothing is recorded of Delmaticus' powers of oratory
- Delmaticus is known to have restored the temple of Castor in the Forum Romanum
Morgan makes the following points against Delmaticus and in favour of the earlier Metellus:
In three other passages Pliny certainly refers to this Metellus as "Metellus pontifex"
- Pliny shows personal doubt on the story by using terms such as "allegedly" and "supposedly"
- He suggests that Valerius Maximus' story is told specifically to refute the charge that Metellus was tongue-tied
- Metellus won a large amount of booty by defeating the Carthaginian army at Panormus, for which he celebrated a spectacular triumph, so he had the resources to build a temple
- The central role played by the harvest of 250 in assuring Metellus' victory suggests a motive for dedicating a temple to Ops
- The temple of Ops near the Forum, while not known to have specifically been dedicated to Ops Opifera, must have been built fairly early, in order to get such a location and dedication date.
Morgan argues that work on the temple probably began immediately after Metellus' return from Sicily in 250, and that it was most likely dedicated in 247, since a temple dedication had to be undertaken by a magistrate with imperium unless a special law had been enacted. In this year, his assigned province was Sicily (Dio Cassius 12.16) which he could not have left during the campaigning season.
Hence it follows that a.d. XII Kal. Ian. in this year was sometime in the winter.
I find this argument interesting and plausible. Even if accepted however, the synchronism is too imprecise to establish a firm chronology. But it does show that the Roman calendar was not significantly in advance of the Julian calendar at this time.
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